Thank you Dr. Ford (TW: Sexual Assualt)

Hero, brave, strong, courageous, those were words that were rightfully used to describe the harrowing testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. During this testimony that was watched by the nation Dr. Ford was forced to reveal some of her most vulnerable sides. With her voice shaking, as she fought back tears, she answered some of the most difficult questions a person can answer. People did not find Dr. Ford’s testimony to be brave because she showed no fear, quite the opposite, she admitted in her opening statement that she was “terrified” yet she spoke anyway.

My self like many other people across the country was fighting back tears as Dr. Ford spoke. As someone who struggles with anxiety, as she disclosed to experiencing, I was hypersensitive to every time her voice shook. Dr. Ford has admitted to struggling with symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks and PTSD symptoms in the 36 years since her assault. She has admitted that this has caused relationship difficulties for her, and academic difficulties in the years following her assault.

What made Dr. Ford’s testimony so powerful was the vulnerabilities she showed. She admitted to “crying a lot” during her polygraph test. She admitted that she’s terrified of flying, but still traveled by air for this testimony, as she does for many other vacations. She showed great knowledge about her anxiety. Stating that while she believes her assault was a large contributing factor to her symptoms of anxiety, she also does not rule out a biological disposition. Educating the nation that mental illness symptoms are not black and white.

Dr. Ford is an example of someone who lives with anxiety who can still be extremely successful people. I have experienced symptoms of anxiety for as long as I can remember. While there are some events in my life that I believe her worsened by anxiety, I truly believe I was born with an anxious mind. Living with anxiety myself I can personally attest to how unbearable living with anxiety is. I have had countless nights where I have struggled to fall asleep due to my racing thoughts. There have been times I have sat at my desk feeling like I am unable to breathe. So often I felt like I’m weak for being so fearful of the ordinary life.

Seeing someone openly admit to experiencing anxiety, yet clearly being brilliant was the most empowering thing I have ever experienced. When she was able to break down the neurobiology of how trauma has impacted her all these years later. Dr. Ford reminded us all that living with anxiety still do things that terrify them.  Dr. Ford is living proof that people who have experienced anxiety are incredibly strong, and I thank her for giving me that empowerment.

“I tried to convince myself that because Brett did not rape me, I should be able to move on and pretend that it had never happened”. -Dr. Christine Blasey Ford

That line struck me in a way I had not prepared myself. Dr. Ford epitomized the aftermath of my own sexual assault. In the summer between my junior and senior year of college I was working a movie theatre, instead of going home with my parents like I had most summers, I was staying in an apartment near school and working full-time. My duties at the movie theatre were to clean out the theatres in time for the next movie. Depending on the way the movies were spaced out, a night can either be extremely hectic or have long gaps. Sometimes I would be killing time until the next movie let out. What myself and a lot of other co-workers would do was watch another movie while waiting for the theatre we had to clean to wrap up. This was a practice that managers knew about, and never seemed to care unless we neglected our duties, which I never did.

The night of my assault, there was a co-worker who was flirting with me. I thought he was cute, and I was flattered by the attention. During high school I was brutally bullied and constantly called “ugly” this made attention by the opposite sex unfathomable to me, the high school bullies made it difficult for me to comprehend that anyone could find me attractive. Towards the end of the night, when there were not many obligations left for work he asked me if I wanted to watch a movie with him. We walked the theatre and he said “I like you a lot Laura, I think you are really cool”. The he proceeded to put his hand under my shirt and bra and massage my breast. Inside my mind was yelling “I DON’T WANT THIS!” Yet I sat there frozen, the best way to describe what I was experience was watching it happen to me. I did not feel connected to my own body. Feeling him touch me under my work shirt felt so disgusting. We walked out of the theatre, he grabbed my ass on the way out.

I was shaking uncontrollably, I ran into two other co-workers who I was friendly with. They had been joking around together and tried to engage me in whatever their inside joke was. I was unable to talk, I was just shaking. I have absolutely no recollection of what I said, but somehow, I blurted out what had happened to them. They instantly got a manager, which was not something I had wanted. I made a statement and called my roommate to come meet me at work because I felt way to shaken up to take the subway home on my own.

The following day I was told I would be suspended while an investigation took place. A week later I was in and told that I was fired, that the investigation had found a breach of protocol. Without asking any questions I signed the dismissal paper and got out as quickly as possible. I barely made it down the street until I squeezed my body into the corner between too buildings and began to sob. I was to visible to the public even though I tried to hide myself. I felt so ashamed, should I not have gone into the theatre with him during work hours? Had they thought I wanted it? Why didn’t I tell him to stop? The weeks after this incident I had a difficult time sleeping, I felt his hands on my breasts as I tried to fall asleep. The black polka-dotted bra that I had worn that night used to be one of my favorite pieces of lingerie, yet I could no longer bring myself to wear it.

I had always been the type of person who followed rules, I had been terrified of getting detention in elementary school. I agonized of everything that I had done wrong this to happen to me. Being fired felt like justification that what had happened to me was my fault.

Like Dr. Ford, I told myself that because I wasn’t raped what happened to me wasn’t significant. Even seven years later as I type this I have to resist the urge to type that what happened to me wasn’t “that big of a deal”. The first few months were extremely difficult, and as time passed I pushed it down, because I was so embarrassed and terrified of being judged. I can say very certainly the remnants of that incident have appeared in every single sexual experience I have had since then.

My memories of this incident have been stronger in the days following Dr. Ford’s testimony. While I could never rise to quite her level of courage, she has emboldened me a little. She has reminded me to realize the I will need more years of therapy, to process the impact that this has had on my life and allow myself to forgive myself for it.

 

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Superficial Fixes (TW Suicidal Ideation)

  During my darkest times I have always made an effort to stay as busy as possible. I fill up my days with exciting plans with friends and plan trips. In the back of my mind there was always the hope that filling my days up with fun would substitute my pain with joy. I’ve always thought that this a healthy coping strategy. I am grateful that my depression does not make it difficult for me to want to do these things. Staying busy gives me things to look forward to which helps anchor me to shore during my darkest moments.

In the summer of 2014 I hit one of my worst moods. I blamed this mood on external stressors in my life. By the end of the summer I was at the point where I was hoarding pills. The pills were my escape hatch in case the pain got to much. Yet there was something inside of me that wanted to fight for my life and I took the medications into an appointment with my therapist to take away this option.

Four months after bringing these pills in I moved out of my apartment in Boston, moved in with my parents, quit my job, stopped seeing a therapist I had been making good progress with and enrolled in a full time masters program. I knew that I needed a change and I went for it. All of my recent stressors were replaced with new exciting opportunities. Had I been running away from my problems by making such a drastic change? I really don’t know, many mental health experts recommend not making major changes in the midst of a mental health crisis and I changed everything. In the midst of this change I had to stop seeing a therapist that I was doing good wok with.

The first year that I was back at home was a major high. During my breaks from school I ran up credit card debt filling my time with travel that i could not afford. I didn’t care, I just wanted to feel happy now that I was away from the external stressors  I had left behind in Boston. I naively believed that, despite my own mental health history, and education, I would find healing on bike rides along the beach. When I went back into therapy after a two year hiatus I began to realize how wrong I was.

A few months ago I had a recurrence of panic attacks that I hadn’t had since I had lived in Boston. I began to realize that while I had changed the external situations in my life I hadn’t been working on my internal self. I could not understand when I had a lot that made me happy in my everyday life why I was feeling so awful inside. The mind is a funny thing, painful memories of the past sneak up on you when you least expect them.

I notice that I have a to move away from stressful situations. I was miserable in high school and moved away to Boston. When things got difficult in Boston, I moved back to New York. While it was external stressors that might have triggered some of my despair, I have to examine my own thought patterns that cause me to go into despair. It can be extremely empowering to change problematic life situations. However when living with any sort of mood disorders changing the external has only been a superficial alleviation for my mood. I am blessed that I have had very few external stressors in the past few years. Now is the time for me to stop running from my mood.  

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Save the ACA

It was May 2012 a few days before my college graduation and I was in a routine meeting with my psychiatrist to renew my medications. When it became time to schedule the next appointment I was nervous. A next appointment did not seem like a guarantee. Similar to many soon to be college graduates I was nervous about my upcoming job search, especially if it meant that there would be a gap of time that I would be uninsured. At that moment I was in a really good place emotionally, with a combination of therapy and monthly checks in with a psychiatrist I had finally found a good balance. The place where I was six months ago where I had seriously been considering suicide really seemed like a distant memory. Though as my upcoming graduation approached I was feeling a mixture of nostalgia and excitement for the future with a full awareness of how fragile my current happiness was.

 

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act that had been signed into law only a little over two years ago I was a little premature in my worries of losing insurance. The ACA had given college graduates the option to stay on their parents insurance until the age of 26. Meaning that I wouldn’t be automatically uninsured as I looked for a job. Though anyone with anxiety can understand that even the possibility of uncertainty can throw a person into a panic. The Affordable Care Act was currently being challenged by the Supreme Court and there was some reasonable cause to be worried that the Affordable Care Act would be overturned.

 

My psychiatrist at the time told me that ACA was not going to be overturned immediately and to make an appointment and worry about it if it was overturned. She did throw in that my 15 minute appointment would have been 300 dollars out of pocket. Suffice it say that did not do much to lessen my anxiety.I was lucky, I had nothing to worry about. A month later the Supreme Court voted in favor of the ACA and I breathed a big sigh of relief and went on with my life. Even though I was employed by the end of summer I know that being able to have continuity with my mental health treatment was essential for me in being able to successfully start my career. When you live with a chronic condition like depression and anxiety constant maintenance is essential.

Mental health care is seen as a luxury for well off people. That is not because it is not needed but because there is a disproportionate amount of low income people who do not access to adequate mental health services. The ACA has worked to lessen that disparity but once again it stands to be repealed and there are millions of people who are worrying like I was in 2012 what these debates in Washington DC would do to their day to day life. Medicaid which stands to have drast cuts if the senate’s bill is passed, is the largest subsidizer of mental health treatment (Johnson, 2017). When Kellyanne Conway insensitively suggested that people with Medicaid simply “Get jobs” she should have been reminded how much adequate health care helps people keep jobs. Mental health conditions are some of the biggest contributors for employees missing work, this being very costly for employers (Mental Health America). If we want a more productive economy and workforce we need to be investing in the health of workers not taking resources away.

So to the senators who are trying to figure out which way to vote I beg you think of the 22 million people who stand to lose coverage if this law is passed. Think of them as more than number but as people, people with anxieties.

Articles Cited

http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20170127/NEWS/170129936

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/depression-workplace

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Post Election Healing

I had never wanted to make this a political blog. This blog is supposed to be universal for people, who have experienced mental illness. While I do have many strong political opinions, I never wanted to isolate someone, because they have differed from me politically. Though I feel like the results of this election are so interconnected to mental health.

I started this blog with the mission of breaking down the stigma of mental illness. It would be hypocritical of me to fight for ending stigma of mental illness, yet ignoring the stigma that the election of Donald Trump brings to several marginalized groups. Stigma of mental illness is caused by fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of a loss of control in regards to our own life. Fear can bring out people’s worst instincts, the Donald Trump campaign has shown that. People are understandably afraid of terrorist attacks, Donald Trump has taken that fear and used it to scapegoat people of Islamic faith. It was disgusting when Trump used that hatred to lie about Muslims cheering over the attacks on 9-11, it was disgusting when he proposed a ban on Muslims. It took that red hot fear and turned it into red hot hate.

What does this hatred accomplish? It accomplishes separating people. It accomplishes divisiveness. It brings out the worst of human nature that enjoys disliking other people. I have certainly been guilty of focusing on other people’s negative qualities as a way to build myself up. I certainly have been guilty of enjoying gossiping at someone else’s expense to much. I believe it is important for all of us to think about what it feels like to be on the receiving end of this hatred. As someone who was bullied for many years I know how heavy and heart wrenching this hatred can be. Watching a bully like Donald Trump be rewarded makes me fear for the morals our youth. How can we show them how damaging bullying is when our president is one?

There are so many different ways that that this election ties into mental health issues. Mental health funding cold be drastically cut with Republicans in control of all three branches of the government. Additionally Donald trump has ran a campaign that is very hostile towards people of both Hispanic and Middle Eastern descent. His victory validates racist beliefs, families who are in this country illegally will worry about deportation. Families who were born in the United States worry about their child being bullied just for how they look. All of this anxiety and stress is bound to take an effect on mental health.

I am so sad and worried about this election. It comforts me to know that I’m not alone in this deep pain. I have spoken to older generations who have experienced past electoral disappointments and it has validated that my sadness about this election isn’t as simple as disappointment about my preferred party not winning. To everyone who is feeling similar to how I am feeling I suggest practicing self-care more than ever. Some of the things that I have done over the past week have been reaching out to people that I love. I have also tried to be spending more time outside, or keeping myself moving despite how much I want to stay in bed. I have also stayed away from alcohol in the past week, I worry that drinking when in so much pain would be dangerous.  Listen to what your body is telling you that you need. I know some people who have stayed off of social media in the past week. I took a few days off of reading the newspaper as well watching my beloved Rachel Maddow. I knew that I needed to ease myself back into the news.

Whatever is right for you to get through these next few weeks: do it! However lean on the values that make humanity the best. Know that we will break down the stigmas that divide us.

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Suicide Prevention Day

On Tuesday it will be  10 years to the day since I was hospitalized for suicidal feelings. On world suicide prevention day, I think about how I kept myself alive through the past decade. Preventing suicide is a vast issue that involves many aspects such as funding for mental health programs and eliminating stigma. Though there are many steps that we can take to we prevent suicide on the individual level.

I look at my own journey, which I know does not apply to every person, there was a line in the suicide note I wrote around then “I don’t want to die, but I don’t want to live”. It summed up my feelings then well, dying was scary to me but I felt so hopeless about my own life that it seemed like a better option. Death is an uncomfortable topic, so understandably someone thinking of ending their own life is increasing uncomfortable.

We need to expose ourselves to that discomfort. It is that very discomfort that causes people to suffer in silence, we need to get people to talk about what their suicidal thoughts mean to them. A few years ago I went to a suicide prevention training at work. They showed a case study, where suicide was framed as a spare option for someone in great disappear. I remember the relief of feeling my own previous suicidal feelings being validated. For me it goes back to my original feelings of not wanting to die but not wanting to live.

I am very lucky that my most recent therapist saw my suicidal feelings as an option for me to escape my pain instead of actually wanting to die. She helped me talk out better ways to escape pain other than suicide.  Having her acknowledge my suicidal feelings was a lot more helpful than just being told that life would get better. 10 years since one of my darkest moments I am so grateful that I didn’t give into those suicidal feelings. I still struggle with dark moments at times, sometimes they are closer together and sometimes that they are further apart. During reoccurring dark times I try to remember all the happy moments that have happened since times when I thought life would never get better. It’s those rays of sunshine that have made lifetime so worth it for me.

 

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Mental Health Awareness at Home

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At the closing of mental health awareness month, I think about how vast of an issue mental health awareness is. It can range to so many different things, having jokes about “crazy people” taken out of popular culture to better funding of mental health treatment programs. I believe that one of the most important ways to show that we as a society are more accepting of mental health conditions is by more families being able to accept and support a loved one with mental health awareness. This might be something that effects the micro level of society but it will require macro influences. Creating more awareness to mental health conditions plays an extremely important role in family relationships.

Flashback to ten years ago when I first began to display signs of depression. My parents were completely unprepared on how to take care of a child with depression, not that anything can prepare parents for having a child with any type of illness. There were some very intense fights that I had with my parents about my suicidal gestures and self injury. Part of it had to do with that they didn’t understand it, and thought I was doing this for attention. Part of it was that there were terrified and did not know how to express that so it came out as anger.

There are many things that make mental health a very difficult thing to experience. Some aspects that I believe make it more difficult for parents to experience a child’s mental illness are the lack of awareness in society. My parents were learning about mental illness as my symptoms were coming along, I strongly believe that the better educated that people are about mental illness can make them more prepared for a loved one to experience symptoms. Also due to the stigma and discomfort that is around mental illness many parents do not feel comfortable in confiding in other family members and friends about what might be going on.

My extended family is very tight-knit yet my hospitalizations were something that was not shared with others. As I’ve grown up and became more open about what I’ve been through I’ve been surprised to see how many people have experienced similar struggles. How nice would it be if more people were able to support each other in these struggles. Many people feel hesitant about sharing details of a loved ones mental illness, especially because it might seem like a violation of the person’s privacy.

Successful mental health awareness would mean that parents are not learning about mental illness as their child’s symptoms progress. That parents are able to feel comfortable talking to loved ones without fear of stigma. There is a lot of work that needs to be done for us to get to that place. Mental health awareness month might be over but the work continues everyday.

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Being Supportive

When watching a loved one go through a depressive episode, or any type of mental health challenge, it is so understandable that one would have the urge to do everything in their power to make it go away.  How could one not have that urge? I’ve been on both sides of being the one depressed and the one worrying about others. Both ends of this spectrum absolutely suck to be on. It is understandable that loved ones will say things, that come from a good intention that are very unhelpful things for the one struggling. I know I have said things that were not helpful.

Here are something things that I believe are not helpful for people to here when depressed

  • Everybody experiences and display’s depression in different ways so do not try to compare your loved one’s depression to any other depressive episode you may have seen or experienced.
  • Depression is not always due to some specific problem so trying to fix things is not the right answer.
  • Telling someone to stop being depressed can be very difficult for someone to here. They want more then anything to just stop being depressed but their mood is out their control. I feel so frustrated when I can’t explain why I can’t just “feel better”.
  • Try as hard as you can to not make the person feel guilty for worrying you, depression already causes feelings of self hate. You don’t want to reinforce burdensome feelings for them.

          What You Should Do

  • Remind them that you love them.
  • Treat them as you would normally
  • Take care of yourself and acknowledge that this is difficult for you.
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